Herbert Zoller has what is fast becoming Effingham County’s largest cattle business, though you wouldn’t know it to look at his home on the Clyo Road in the Indigo area.
The well-manicured home gives no indication that just beyond the trees is a booming beef-cattle business.
Zoller said he used to farm tobacco until the labor situation got so bad that it was hard to keep going. He even quit farming altogether for about 10 years and then gradually started getting back into it.
Because he loved to hunt, he started planting some corn and as he increased his corn stand, he decided he needed some cattle so he could use the corn as feed.
And then he added more corn, and likewise, more cattle.
“We just progressively started doing more — putting more fencing in, planting more grass,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work through the NRCS (National Resource Conservation). They were giving us cost-share money to put up fence and we were fencing out the waterways and putting in watering pads. We were running momma cows, and I decided we were going to get up to 100 head of momma cows and this dry weather, it just hurt us bad.
“We couldn’t get grass and we were needing to keep turning some money, so we started buying a few yearlings and then we really got into that and seeing how much cost it was and you’ve got to weigh them and give them all their shots and all, then you’ve got to know your cost per pound of gain. And believe it or not, we got pretty good at that. “
Zoller finally got several other area farmers together and formed Savannah River Cattle.
Once a year, they would get together and pool all their cattle and make several truckloads to sell.
“You put them out for sale on a video auction,” he said. “It would get more attention ‘cause they were buying them by the truckload and we guaranteed them that they were weaned 45 days, they had twice the vaccinations they needed, and that was working real good.”
Said Effingham Extension Agent Bill Tyson: “The cattle business here in Effingham County is a fairly large one because that also includes pasture lands and hay fields.”
The new program seems to be working well, as Zoller is currently selling through about 500 head a year and is working to increase that number to between 750 and 1,000.
“This year already, I think we’ve sold five loads, which is 50,000 pounds,” he said. “It’s not how many head; they look at 50,000 pounds — that’s the target.”
He just got another truckload of yearlings from the Okeechobee, Fla., area and says they’re really good stock with a little Brahma in them, crossed back with Angus.
To put the weight on, Zoller buys a premixed feed from Southern States in Valdosta.
“All we have to do is give them so much a day,” he said. “We give them about five pounds a day and that five pounds is supposed to produce about a pound of growth a day. It costs about 50 cents a pound to get a pound of gain. If you can do it like that, you’re making money.”
Most of his cattle wind up being bought by Cattle Town Feeders out of Texas and Zoller said that a lot of the beef he produces ends up back on local tables. Not only does some of what he sells to Cattle Town make its way back to Effingham County, but Zoller also keeps what he calls his farm-raised calves.
“We sell a few to some local people here and there,” he said.
Zoller said Ratchford’s meat market was a good outlet for them until it closed.
“The only place that’s capable of doing it now’s in Millen,” he said. “But there’s a lot of people who would buy it and put a half a cow in the freezer. You might sell it for $2 a pound, but that’s $2 for everything – your T-bone, porterhouse, and your rib eye. Two dollars might be a little high on the ground meat but it’s cheap when you get down to the whole deal.”
The Zollers also provide custom feeding to other local farmers. You bring your cattle to Herbert and he feeds them, gives them their shots and brings their weight up to whatever the customer wants it to be. He can even make the sale for you so that all you have to do is pick up a check. He said there’s not another facility in the county like this.
Once in a while area schoolteachers bring groups of school children out to see what working on a farm is really like.
“I love to take time with them,” Zoller said. “It was really exciting, it was nice — they asked a lot of questions and, a lot of them, they didn’t know what was going on. I’m proud of everything we’ve done, this thing here, we’ve built this ourselves.”
The Zollers are descendants of one of the original Salzburger families who founded Effingham County. Herbert’s father was chief magistrate and constable for many years.